philadelphia: the unexpected city

The other day I wrote about being a little kid in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. The mid 1960s through to the mid 1970s.

Today I picked up some things from a storage locker sale I had purchased. One thing was a limited edition book published in 1965 when I was a year old. Philadelphia: The Unexpected City by Laurence Lafore and Sara Lee Lippincott. The publisher was Doubleday. It was a copy of the “Philadelphia Edition.”

I don’t think too many people would be as excited to see this book as I was. But it was a book I remember people having in their homes when I was growing up, especially people that lived in Society Hill because there was so much of Society Hill in the book.

And there’s one thing that’s a picture of when they were raising the houses around Front Street to basically put in the highway. And I remember when they were doing all of that because it took a while to build and my mother’s friend Margery Niblock the artist had done a wood cut of it that I have the artist’s proof of.

So again, unless you live there during this time this probably wouldn’t mean anything to you. But it means something to me because there are so many pictures in this book of what Society Hill looks like when people like my parents came in and bought house is dirt cheap and started to restore them.

And the restoration of Society Hill is still a historic preservation triumph even with all of the houses that were in such bad condition they had to be demolished.

I guess that’s why sometimes I wonder why municipalities let people say “Oh we can’t possibly fix this, it has to be taken down!” I look at what happened then when I was a kid, and the technology wasn’t as advanced and so on and so forth, yet the historic preservation actually happened and restoration actually happened.

So I wish people would look at examples like this, and then look more towards preservation where they live. It is possible. Communities just have to want it. And if communities want it, they need to make that known to local government.

People have to realize you can save pieces of the past and people will love them and will live in them.

This section of Philadelphia when I was growing up was a sea of construction and scaffolding. I remember the contrast of going to neighborhoods where other people we knew lived and then coming back to our own. But it was exciting to see. Even then.

Hopefully someday when I am no longer around, someone else will happen upon what is now my copy of this book and love it as much as I do.

historic preservation is inspiring and infectious, why can’t we have more not less?

This was something the greeted me this morning when I popped open my tablet. An update from Meg Veno at Life’s Patina about the restoration in progress of the Jenny Lind house in Historic Yellow Springs Village this morning she was talking about antique fire backs and it triggered a memory in me, reminding me of my late father upon seeing these fire backs.

When I was very young, as I have written before, my parents bought a wreck of a house from the redevelopment authority in Philadelphia. Literally a wreck. It was their first house and they had lived in an apartment close by as newlyweds.

An 1811 double front townhouse turned into bad apartments in the depression (if memory serves.) This was the early 60s and most of Society Hill was a slum. I remember my father hunting for fire backs for all the fireplaces (and almost every room had one except for the back building.) Because the homes were in such a general condition of disrepair, you would salvage for missing parts quite literally from other homes being torn down.

This was the original “sale sign” on the house my parents bought in the ‘60s in Society Hill

Yes above you see the actual sale sign that was hanging on the house my parents bought from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority in the early 1960s. I will note that in today’s world, realtors and others get the actual date of this house I was born in wrong. Sometimes it’s just buy a couple of years, other times it’s been by decades. I don’t know how they can’t do their research. I keep the sign with me as a souvenir of my childhood there.

I have distinct memories of Society Hill when I was really little and it was like a giant construction site. There were so many houses that were beyond repair being torn down, other houses being restored, and in some cases entire blocks being leveled for new construction. Including next door to our house.

From Philadelphia government archives. Photo dates to 1957

From Philadelphia government archives. Photo dates to 1930s

If you look at those photos, the one immediately above the one that was taken in the 1930s when the house was part of an entire row of homes built in the same early 19th century. The photo above that is from 1957 and a bunch of the houses had already been demolished. I will further note that the house at the end of the row in the 1957 photo (269 S. 4th) was torn down by the time my parents bought their house (271 S. 4th.)

When I was a little girl until they started building, right next-door to us was a big old empty lot with a giant sycamore tree in the back corner.

The two screen shots above are from the PhillyHistory.org amazing photo archives. This next screenshot is from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings and was taken in the 1980s:

When I look at that photo I get wistful because the little street tree is a pin oak tree my father planted when I was a little girl. I also have that memory of him planting the street tree and taking care of it throughout the years. Just like I have memories of my mother scrubbing down by hand the white marble steps. It was the only way to keep them clean.

The next screenshot is a Google shot my parents’ old house today. I have no idea who owns it I know it’s sold a couple of years ago. I presume it is still single-family. It would kill me if it was put back to apartments after all these years.

And look to the left of my parents home townhouses built in the early 1970s. I don’t think it was late 1960s, but maybe they were at least in planning. Look at the difference between what you see being built today and what was built then. It has a better size and scale to fit into the existing neighborhood. The design while modern, nods to the past. It is a shame we can’t get that today with new construction, isn’t it?

Society hill in the 1960s was a very different place than a place you see being gentrified today. It was like this unspoken word-of-mouth saying that when houses were being either taken down or strip to the studs, people from the neighborhood that were in the middle of restoration projects always got a pick at salvage basically.

Meg’s photo of her firebacks took me back to when my father was restoring the fireplaces in our house back then. I have no idea if the fireplaces are still wood-burning, but they were when I was a child. And I remember my father going in and out of houses being torn down or houses that had been torn down and all were left were piles of rubble looking for hardware and firebacks and even some mantelpieces. The mantelpieces in this house I was born in were predominantly marble. A lot of them were black marble with beautiful veining.

The mantelpieces my father picked up out of homes being torn down were wood. Some of those had future use in other houses.  Daddy hated the waste so he literally collected hardware, doors, etc. Everyone did in those days.  Of course yes there were scavengers that just stole from everyone but I don’t remember them actually living in Society Hill.  They would just appear like carrion crows every now and again. I do remember my father chasing a contractor out onto the roof of the 4th floor for using interior mouldings as window trim. (But I digress as I ramble)

The PhillyHistory.org is a treasure trove of photos. You can see how bad a lot of the houses were on the inside, let alone the outside. I haven’t been able to find archival photos of my parents’ house from before they bought it but here’s a screenshot I took from one of the neighborhood homes of these archives that will give you an idea of the restoration that was necessary:

It’s crazy when I think about the way it was to what it has become as an area today. One thing no one ever talks about is how Society Hill got the name Society Hill.  Cue USHistory.org :

Named after the long defunct Free Society of Traders, this area of Philadelphia extends from Walnut to Lombard Streets, from Front to 8th Street.

 

The Society for which Society Hill is named is now defunct. The Free Society of Traders, a stock company to whom William Penn made liberal concessions of land and privileges, encountered virgin territory and woodlands stretching westward to the Schuylkill. They found some Dutch and Swedes living here as well. Though by 1683 the Society’s assets already included a sawmill, a glasshouse, and a tannery in Philadelphia, but two score years later they were bankrupt. The Assembly put the property of the Society in the hand of trustees in order to pay its debts.

 

Home to many members of the federal government when Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital, the area also attracted the locally wealthy and international nabobs as well. As the land juxtaposed the river and the seat of government, it was the most valuable in the city. From greed and speculation, lots were divided and divided again. The result: the serpentine walkways, abrupt angles, and tiny alleys that today make the area so appealingly intimate.

 

Over decades the area lost its cachet and ultimately became a dilapidated slum with a massive food distribution center located on Dock Street

 

But an interesting thing about when Society Hill came back to life is a lot was abandoned and derelict and empty.  It wasn’t a case of just displacing people to allow gentrification. That happened in many other areas of the city, however.  I am not going to say the Redevelopment Authority was full of angels.  There were always stories growing up.

PLAN PHILLY/WHYY: GENTRIFIED: STORIES FROM RAPIDLY CHANGING PHILADELPHIA
From slums to sleek towers: How Philly became cleaner, safer, and more unequal
By Jake Blumgart Jim Saksa March 12, 2018

Harry Schwartz, 84, remembers when his neighborhood, Society Hill, was one of the poorest parts of Philadelphia. But by the time he moved there as a young lawyer in 1969, things had changed. City planners had fixed up crowded blocks of crumbling old houses and razed a congested, old wholesale produce market to make way for majestic modernist towers. Schwartz and his pediatrician wife were attracted to Society Hill’s architectural gems, tucked among its cobblestoned, walkable streets. Soon, they found themselves surrounded by a community of artists, activists, and young professionals like them.

They loved it. Society Hill allowed them to bike to work and walk to friends’ houses for Julia Child-inspired dinner parties…The reinvention of Society Hill in the 1960s is widely considered one of the first instances of gentrification — although no one called it that at the time….“What happened in Society Hill in our experience, and I speak only from that, was not displacement,” says Schwartz, who moved in about a decade after city government spurred the redevelopment of the neighborhood. “But rather [by the time they moved in 1969], re-occupation and restoration.”

 

It was different.  And it was a time where progress didn’t hurt so much and people were actively participating in historic preservation.

There is this website I have discovered called Preserving Society Hill.  They have these oral histories transcribed. Some I have read have made me very emotional reading them. These are the people of my earliest years, the faces of where I lived. Some I still know today.  It is boring for all of you to hear me talk about this website, but for me, I am reading interviews given by people whose houses I played in or who my mother was in the babysitting co-op with and so on.

I will share a snippet of one given by Mrs. Burnette.  She and her husband who is an architect were friends of my parents and my sister and I went to school with their daughters.  They lived on S. 3rd Street.  I loved their house and still am connected to the daughters today:

DS: Tell me more about the condition of the house. Had it been open to the elements? Had it been vacant for a long period of time?

MB: I think it had been vacant for a while, because it was – as I remember, it was just large and dirty. [Laughs]

DS: Large and dirty. Were there animals or anything inside?

MB: No, no, it didn’t seem to be that way.

DS: Pigeons?

MB: No. Of course, it’s surprising that we went up into the attic and cleaned (5:00) the attic first of all. I remember being up there with a broom and sweeping out the attic and finding an old shoe. But the rest of it was pretty open. I don’t know if the Redevelopment Authority had come in and cleaned some of it out. Has anybody else said anything about that?

……DS: The Redevelopment Authority – you bought it from them.

MB: Yes. As I remember, it was $9,800.

DS: Gosh!

 

Another oral history was given by my friend’s father Philip Price.  What an amazing man he is!

Philip Price, Jr.’s account of his experience restoring 321 Spruce Street seems to include more lawsuits than do those of other narrators. A fire on the third floor had done a lot of damage to the house when Phil and his wife Sarah bought the place in 1965. The house was in “absolutely appalling” condition, but Phil and Sarah wanted to live in Center City and “enjoy the challenges of moving into a redevelopment area.” They also bought the property next door, 319 Spruce, where they would enjoy planting a garden. They did a complete rehab of the house: electrical, plumbing, roof, painting, nine fireplaces all restored to working order, and ultimately shutters required by the Redevelopment Authority.

One lawsuit arose after Phil and his contractor discovered that the chimney shared by the unrestored, unoccupied house next door at 323 Spruce was about to fall off the houses and crash onto the sidewalk – so imminently that Phil had the chimney removed immediately and wrote a letter to the other owner describing what had happened. The other owner sued Phil, but Phil prevailed

Truthfully this Preserving Society Hill website is a gem to me.  Even some of my childhood playmates are interviewed with the oral histories. If you lived in Society Hill when we did you will love the memories evoked. It’s why I love oral histories and think they are so important. I have always said communities should commit to oral histories.

But what is also so great about the oral histories I am reading on this website is I am not mis-remembering things. Like all of us who got jumped or mugged. Yes truly and as kids. They stole my friend’s bike right out from under us in Bingham Court which was down the street from our house.  My friend wore glasses and they smashed them in her face.  Then there was the Halloween a whole bunch of us got mugged for our Unicef collection boxes. And we were with parents. I remember we were wearing these giant paper costumes by Creative Playthings too – parents loved them because you could bundle kids up underneath.

Society Hill was tough but it was wonderful.  I loved the history of it and still do.  It was proof that historic preservation does and can work.  This is my touchstone when I think about historic preservation anywhere.  Society Hill brought together people from all walks of life, backgrounds, races, religions.  Oh and guess what else? Most people had walled gardens they created as they were restoring their houses.

So Meg Veno? Thank you for inspiring me today and evoking happy memories that made me take another ramble down my own memory lane.

We need more preservation.  We need development to fit with where we live when it happens. It is possible.


the end of the decade, new year’s eve 2019

Lovely Loch Aerie, Frazer, PA

It has been a crazy decade chock-full of so much. I wasn’t sure what my last post of the year was going to look like until I started looking at some of my photos of houses that had captured my interest and fancy in the past decade.

So in all of the houses I have looked at in this decade I have decided to remain true to Chester County today and give you my three favorites.

Ironically my three house picks for the decade are not traditional 18th century Chester County Farmhouses, but three 19th-century stone houses of a certain era.

You see the first house above. My ultimate old house love, beautiful and lovely Loch Aerie mansion. I have written about her enough that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel and restate her history.

Loch Aerie on Lancaster Avenue in Frazer in East Whiteland Township enters the next decade with a guaranteed and brilliant new lease on life. She is being restored to her former glory, and will have an adaptive reuse that will ensure her place in architectural history for decades to come.

Old stone house Francis Ave, Berwyn, Easttown.

Next on my list is a house I was reminded of this morning. I know nothing of her pedigree. It is the great stone house on Francis Avenue in Berwyn.

My great friend (and Chester County historian and artist) Catherine Quillman and I stumbled upon this beauty in 2016 one fall afternoon.

We took a wrong turn somewhere after leaving Jenkins Arboretum and all of a sudden we were on Francis Avenue in front of this house. And before anyone flips out, we did not trespass. I had a camera with a zoom lens with me and I took photos from the street. This house captured my fancy for a number of reasons, including the fact that the stonework reminded me a lot of Loch Aerie.

I know absolutely nothing of the history of this house other than its 19th century and in Easttown Township . I think it probably has a name (possibly according to a 1912 atlas it appears it was maybe called “Rhydlyn” home of James G. Francis, whose sister in law I believe was famed local photographer Lucy Sampson according to census records from the early 20th century and according to the census she lived there for a while!) I don’t know if it is listed on any national registries or even a state or local registry. I couldn’t find it listed anywhere. (I am told it is mentioned HERE.)

It strikes me as a similar vintage to Loch Aerie. I also do not know the current ownership of the home but I am told it is being preserved as part of some kind of a development. I am also told that the glorious slate roof is no longer which I can’t say surprises me because old slate roofs are incredibly expensive to maintain and it’s a lost art of the craftsmanship of roof building. There are very few slaters left.

My last house which captured my fancy a great deal in this last decade is the Joseph Price house in West Whiteland Township.

This house is on S.Whitford and Clover Mill Roads in Exton. The Joseph Price House in West Whiteland Township.

Here is a wonderful little slide show presentation on prezi. This house is historically listed. It was built in 1878 and altered in 1894 by the house namesake inhabitant at the time. It was altered from a Gothic style to a Queen Anne style.

I was also told in the 1990s it was separate apartments inside and there were also cottages around it which were rented out as well.

In the 1950s and 60s there was a large barn there that was a sale barn for cattle run by Bayard Taylor —a blog reader told me that. He knew because his mother did bookkeeping for that business while she was in college.

This house is not completely deserted I am told there is a caretaker who still lives there. However, this house has an uncertain future at best and nobody seems to know what will happen to it. Which is a shame because it’s very cool.

So as we lift a glass one last time to toast a crazy tumultuous decade everywhere, let us think of our future and historic preservation. There are so many cool houses like this throughout Chester County from all eras of time.

Less development. More land and structure preservation and adaptive reuse. That’s my final wish for Chester County for 2019.

Please do not trespass on these properties. Either get permission to wander around or look from the street.

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve!

Joseph Price House. West Whiteland Township.

who owns clews & strawbridge?

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This structure is a historic asset…or it should be.

It’s the 18th century farmhouse that is part of the Clews & Strawbridge property on Lancaster Avebue in Malvern/Frazwer .

Who owns Clews & Strawbridge now?

I find this demolition by neglect disgraceful, but then again I find most of the rotting historic properties in Chester County and in East Whiteland disgraceful because it doesn’t have to be this way!

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The fencing is new and I have to ask do they think a stockade fence is going to make people forget what a hot mess the entire property looks like most of the time? COME ON.

Whoever you are, it’s time to deal with the house.  Can it be sold? Is it empty? Is it full of stuff? There are so many stories yet no one seems to know what is going on so can they just be straight with residents and historical architecture buffs?

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have you been to the eagle tavern lately? GO!

The Eagle Tavern is Chester County History. Love that after centuries (literally!) they are still standing! It was built in 1702 and the liquor license dates from 1727. We weren’t even a country yet officially! The current building was built over the original structure circa 1799 according to what I was told. It’s survived what could have been a devastating fire in 2010 that was tragically accidental.

It closed for a while when the old owners decided to sell. In 2018 it opened under new ownership. I wrote about it then (click HERE). PA Eats also wrote about it back then (click HERE.)

If I have a story right before the current owner as of 2018 it was owned by the original family that had it for decades and then maybe the people that owned Carmines up the street had it for a while?

Anyway back in 2012, the Daily Local wrote:

The Eagle Tavern

Receiving a liquor license in 1727, the Eagle Tavern was once a hangout for pre-Revolutionary War outlaws the Doan brothers. Located at the fork of two main thoroughfares, it’s been run by owner Lois Jones and her family since the country’s Bicentennial in 1976. Lois can be seen today greeting guests and serving up hearty fare in the restaurant’s casual, friendly atmosphere.

The Eagle Tavern has a colorful history that I would love to learn more about. (Some of it is on their website.)

I used to go to the tavern under the old owners mostly for lunch over the years. I didn’t live in Chester County until a few years ago so back in the day it was truly a haul to get there.

When the Eagle Tavern first reopened in 2018 we went a few times. The first time was March, 2018. That is when I wrote my initial review. At that time the meal was awesome and we really enjoyed it. We went back a few other times later in 2018 and didn’t really like it as much. I never updated my review, I just went other places. The problem was the place was inconsistent. It got to be that it was never really horrible but it wasn’t so fabulous either.

So until today, we hadn’t been there in forever, literally. We had wondered for a while if they were still open because the parking lot was always empty. Then recently a friend told me that they were under more appropriate management, better management and they were doing their own beer and other things.

So this afternoon after taking a detour after attending a funeral, my husband and I decided to go back for a late lunch.

I am so glad we did! And I hope all of you go back to the Eagle Tavern, especially if you haven’t been there in a while!

The difference is remarkable! The inside has been further refined without losing its wonderful historic tavern feel. The menu has been revamped and is like a more modern version of what it originally was years ago. And the bathrooms have been done over and so has the staff. We had amazing table service today and an awesome lunch!

I know it sounds dumb, but I have been on the hunt for a traditional, old-school club sandwich. I don’t know what it is about that sandwich but that is a summer sandwich to me. Probably because growing up when you went to certain clubs and places that was always on a summer menu.

The sandwich was amazing. My husband enjoyed his lunch too and said that their home brewed beers were nice! Here are screenshots of the lunch menu:

Here is the link to all of the menus: CLICK HERE. The Eagle Tavern has upped their game considerably and remained true to the history. I like that they do not pretend to be other than what they are. And it’s lovely inside. Anyone can buy architectural salvage to dress up a new build restaurant, but you can’t imitate centuries of history.

We actually took the time to speak with the manager. Chester County residents who have lived out here a long time you will know his name immediately – Chip Nye. Yes, the old manager for years came back! And the difference is remarkable! And he’s excited to be there and his energy is echoed by the rest of the staff.

The Eagle Tavern is running again like a well-oiled machine, and the menu works and is well-prepared coming out of the kitchen and the staff is amazing. I actually look forward to future meals there. And I think it looks better than ever inside which is why I snapped a few photos.

Anyway I encourage folks to go and check it out. They also have music some of the time.

An old school tavern is so much better than a Disneyesque modern version of a pub. The folks from the Ship Inn should go check it out. The Ship is also tradition around here, but they need a makeover in parts of their restaurant, and the kind of aesthetic makeover at the Eagle Tavern and feel of it would also work at the Ship Inn. No, not to create twinsies taverns, I just think it would be good inspiration. Especially in that big dining room that screams 1970s banquet hall.

(Now don’t get out the pitchforks at me because I said the Ship Inn needs a makeover. It’s a cool place but Robert Irvine needs to visit and Restaurant Impossible is looking for places.)

Back to the Eagle Tavern: Today was lovely, look forward to future visits! Let me know what you think if you go!

adaptive reuse ❤️

I love that whomever owns what was once a motor court on Route 30 in Exton is rebuilding the little cottages/cabins one by one.

Adaptive reuse and preservation. We need more of that combined with land conservation and farm preservation here in Chester County.

I

#tbt my history with history

The photo above has me in the center. Circa 1976- 1977. It has just been too long that sadly, I don’t remember the exact date.

Where am I? At one of my favorite historic sites on earth. Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. I think technically, my friends and I at the time, beat Chef Walter Staib into the kitchen there by a few decades.

When we first moved to the Main Line from Society Hill, I missed the history and old houses of Society Hill. Yes, I was kind of obsessed by old houses even then. So neighbors introduced our family to historic Harriton House. And as a related sidenote, Historic Harriton House is a remarkable story of preservation. I urge everyone to take the time to go visit. The site is a little slice of heaven.

Before we moved from the city to suburbia, I also did something kind of historically minded for a kid.

At 11, I was probably the youngest volunteer tour guide the Park Service ever had in Society Hill. I gave tours of the Todd House and Bishop White House. In Colonial garb with a little mob cap.

How? Well my parents knew Hobie Cawood. Mr. Cawood was the Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park from 1971-1991. I wrote about this before.

But this is just something I have always loved since I was a kid. Our history, our architecture, our old houses.

I am not a new house person. I am a preserve the old house person. It’s just the way I am made. I am a realist and I don’t think every old house can be saved, but I think a lot more can be saved then are actually being saved.

Whenever I have these conversations with anyone about historic preservation, I go back to my childhood in Society Hill. And the reason is simple: that area was a total slum when people like my parents as newlyweds bought wrecks of old houses in Society Hill for peanuts from the redevelopment authority in Philadelphia.

My parents and their friends restored these houses with architectural details and hardware and windows and woodwork from houses that were too far gone to save. And as kids, a lot of the time we went with our parents when they were visiting these wrecks of houses to see what they could salvage out of them. And salvaging then wasn’t so much a big business as it was sort of a neighbor helping neighbor collaborative. People would give you the stuff out of the houses being torn down. It was a very different time.

It was through these expeditions that I learned about things like shutter dogs. Busybody mirrors. Box locks and more. The details of historical architecture which have traveled with me throughout my life.

This is where my love of old houses began. And it has been a lifelong affair.

A lot of people don’t like my opinions. And I’m sorry they don’t share my love of old houses and history. But as Americans we have a magnificent history. And we can’t just keep bulldozing it away.

Thanks for stopping by.

chester county memories

I got a comment into my blog today concerning the historic rotting house you see above. It is located on the Clews and Strawbridge property in Malvern on Lancaster Avenue in East Whiteland.

Here is the comment:

I remember when the now abandoned house next to Clews and Strawbridge was occupied by the Clews family (1970). Their daughter Sylvan was one of my closest friends. The home was filled with art and antiques, as Sylvan’s father, Mancha, was the son of a noted sculptor, and her mother Margaret ( a member of the family that founded the Strawbridge and Clothier department store), was a painter. I lost touch with Sylvan, but was somewhat amused that when I met my current husband years later, he was living almost directly across the street from that house, in Westgate Village. Now, I pass that house on my way to work almost every day, and often think about what it was like when the family lived there (and I wonder what creatures might currently be in residence, from bats to squirrels?)

This is another house that is part of Chester County’s architectural history that is just being allowed to rot.

Apparently in this county they can only build new these days. And isn’t that pathetic?

And did you know the Chester County Planning Commission has someone whose sole job has to do with the history… a “Heritage Preservation Coordinator.”

I have to wonder do they realize all the structures are out there? And do they care?

To the residents of Chester County: As someone who is somewhat new to your ranks even after a few years, I love the stories don’t stop telling them to me.

what is really going on in caln township with lloyd farm?

Many thanks to Abandoned Steve Explorations for the use of his gorgeous photo of Lloyd Farm in Caln Township.

Abandoned Steve Explorations took the glorious photo I am opening this post with. I am positively obsessed with the cool structures he covers. He was nice enough to lend us the use of this photo it’s part of an upcoming project. You can find him on Facebook , his website, and YouTube.

Lloyd Farm is haunting me. Part of a Penn Land Grant, dating its origins to the 1600s.

(See this history by Edward C. Lendrat)

Then there is the 18th Century farmhouse with an equally historic 1901 addition.

What am I talking about? 1757 was when the farmhouse was originally built and 1910 when the Lloyd family commissioned Gilbert McIlvaine the Philadelphia architect to build a “modern” addition that paid homage and melded with the original farmhouse. Mr. McIlvaine maintained a home in Downingtown for many years and was also active in the Boy Scouts founding several troops I am told in Chester County.

Back to Lloyd Farm…except the people who have called it home or who had something to do with it are important to the very fabric of Lloyd Farm’s history.

Yesterday I learned surprising news when a copy of an old historic preservation application was unearthed from the early 1980s – possibly 1982. Yes – seriously – Lloyd Farm Application for Historic Designation: PA Historic Resource Form Circa 1982.

From this form we learned quite a few things including that Lloyd Farm around or before the Civil War was a freaking stop on the Underground Railroad!

It’s just crazy and you have to ask what in the heck is going on in Caln Township? How long have these commissioners known the history of Lloyd Farm and why didn’t that historic designation proceed? Why wasn’t it pursued for a national historical status?

Did I mention the demolition permit? There is one. And what is with the date mismatch in that letter thing?

I don’t live in Caln. I do know amusingly enough like Lower Merion Township , it’s a First Class Township. But who runs the Township? Because it surely doesn’t seem like the elected commissioners does it? I know in Lower Merion Township years ago because I was part of it when the residents rose up after having had enough over the threat of eminent domain for private gain in Ardmore that we flipped half of the board of commissioners in one election.

And Caln residents are upset about this.

Really upset.

I want to know why the developer wants to tear down the house don’t you? Is this going to be like the death of Addison Mizner’s La Ronda in Bryn Mawr, PA? A case where a magnificent home was torn down for salvage just because someone could?

Caln resident submitted photo.

Look at the historic comparables in Chester County that are actually getting saved and restored: West Whiteland Inn, Exton. Benjamin Jacobs House, Exton. Fox Chase Inn and Barn, Exton. Linden Hall, Malvern (even if I don’t like some of what is being done it’s being saved, finally.) Loch Aerie, Malvern. The Jenny Lind House, Yellow Springs Village.

Also to be considered? Several Toll Brothers projects including in Chester County where similar vintage farmhouses and/or barns have been or are being saved. Now it is no secret how I feel about Toll Brothers developments, but if even they can preserve historic structures on properties they are developing why couldn’t the developer for Lloyd Farm do that? Or why couldn’t they contemplate something like selling off the farmhouse with a small plot of land around it to someone who might want to preserve it and live in it or something like that?

Caln resident submitted photo.

I don’t have the answers and every day I have more and more questions. This is one of those situations I just don’t get it. I just don’t get what is going on here. I don’t understand why this property isn’t more valued for the centuries of history involved here?

Our history should not always belong to the wrecking ball.

That’s all I have got.

#SaveLloydFarm #ThisPlaceMatters

Caln resident submitted photo.

historic philadelphia tour guide memories

I love Philadelphia history. As a child born in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia in the 1960s I was literally raised in it, with it, immersed in it.

My late father worked on the Continental Congress reenactment. That was 1974. It was super cool. I remember it. We got to meet Jimmy and Roslyn Carter before he was President among others. (I found a video on YouTube about it, actually .) The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in the autumn of 1774, so in 1974 in advance of the US Bicentennial, there was this reenactment.

Circa 1975 I was 11. And my parents somehow convinced the then Superintendent of Independence National Historic Park, Hobart Cawood, to let me be a volunteer tour guide of the Todd House (Dolly Todd Madison’s Philadelphia home way before she was a First Lady- I was obsessed with her as a kid and even have a China doll my mother made for me from a kit still), and the Bishop White House (the Philadelphia one, not the Rose Tree one White sent his family to during the Yellow Fever outbreak in late 18th Century.)

I gave my tours in Colonial garb. My mother made me a costume that included a mob cap (from a pattern similar to the one above I saw on eBay). I was a kid, but I loved Philadelphia history so I did research and made sure what I said was historically accurate. Grown-ups who took my tour told me then that my tour was better and more interesting than a lot of the grown-ups like Park Service folk giving tours. Regular lay volunteers were nice to me the precocious kid. Actual Park Service guides? Mmmm they tolerated me. Sort of.

Hobie Cawood allowed me to have memories to carry with me forever. It was a magical experience. Better than any camp I could have gone to that summer.

Around the same time I also helped a Philadelphia gardener named Bill Spann plant the kitchen garden at the Todd House. I contributed one of the plants to the garden from my own garden – Irish Camphor. My paternal grandmother had smuggled it home from a trip to Ireland and gave me a piece to grow, and I split part of my plant and donated some to this garden which was planted then to be historically accurate for a Colonial kitchen garden. I do not know if they still have a garden there or not.

Flash forward to the mid 1980s and starting to look for a “real” job. One of my great aunts had been a Civil Service employee her whole life (starting in World War II) and she used to get these paper catalogs of job listings for government jobs. She used to give them to me because to her a government job was the best kind of security. I looked through one of the catalogs and they had jobs that were either GS3 or GS4 grade Park Ranger jobs at Independence National Historic Park. I applied for a job, and to my surprise, got it.

I got this job as my friends were getting ready for one last post-College summer at the beach. I didn’t really want to go to work, but my parents were insistent. I went and got my polyester Smokey The Bear uniforms (complete with hat.) I will admit Main Line friends at the time mocked me.

I remember going to report for work at the visitors’ center. As an entry level baby Park Service employee, I had orientation and also shadowed park ranger tour guides and was tasked with also creating my own tour. I went back to my first Independence National Historic Park first loves – the Todd and Bishop White Houses. I was shocked at how historically inaccurate or historically sloppy the tours were at that time. I actually found it depressing.

So once again, now as a young adult, I researched and created my tour. No one really checked it, but I made it historically accurate. I did not embellish. It was tough being a new kid though. The established rangers viewed new kids on the block much like you would view a pesky younger sibling and were very cliquish. I will admit that was pretty much the only job I never really made friends.

Working for the Park Service in the cradle of American liberty in the mid 1980s did come with a pass key. I happily on breaks and lunch times explored photo archives that existed on upper floors of either the First or Second Bank (I forget which.) One time I also went with people to the tippy top to the wooden bell tower where the Liberty Bell once hung. That was super cool. All around inside the bell tower at that time were the signatures of famous people and regular people who had climbed to the top. I signed my name in ball point pen near where Ronald Reagan had signed his name. I have no idea if my signature or even his and others still exist as restoration work was done a few years ago.

In the post 9/11 world, I doubt as a Park Service employee that you can just wander at will like you once could. One of the drawbacks which I don’t know if it has changed was dealing with the unbalanced and homeless who frequented the historic sites. That was hard and sad.

I will admit that while I loved giving tours of my favorite houses from my childhood and it was a kick, I hated the job. I hated the scratchy and super ugly polyester uniform. I did not like the government worker cliques I encountered. So I maybe lasted a couple of months. And I quit and much to my parent’s anger, went back to the beach for the majority of one last summer.

Many years passed and I remember another time years ago now doing the tourist thing with a friend in from out of town. I remember taking them down to the Independence Hall area. We went on a tour of houses, Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall, and even a carriage ride tour. It was so historically OFF that to this day, I have never recommended those tours again. I recommend self-touring.

Well, in April’s Philadelphia Magazine there is an article about these tours. It’s worth reading. Thanks for stopping by and below is a very small excerpt:

Fact-Checking Philly History Tours: Truths, Half-Truths and Truthiness
Philadelphia Magazine
By Don Steinberg


….Sightseeing tours of historic Philadelphia are like blizzards of candy factoids raining from the sky. As the landmarks whiz by, guides shower visiting pilgrims with history-book facts, anecdotes about the founding fathers, incredible backstories about public art, impressive and begging-for-fact-check firsts and biggests and oldests….It turns out not every truth, at least when it comes to Philadelphia history tours, is self-evident. Based on my small sample size, I’m putting it at about 83 percent. That means — good news! — our city sightseeing tours are mostly accurate. But there’s still a fertile area of dare-you-to-disprove sketchiness and just enough whacked-out face-palmers to keep the city’s vital tourist audience entertained. What could be more American?

Ten years ago, Philadelphia City Council passed a law, and mayor Michael Nutter signed it, that said anybody who wanted to give a paid sightseeing tour in Center City had to pass a Philadelphia history test to get a license. That ordinance remains on the books, and this April we celebrate the 10th anniversary of its never being enforced.